With YES reaching the halfway stage of their 2016 US Drama/Tales 1 & 4 Tour, we headed south again into upper New York State, to The Egg (Performing Arts Center) in Albany to find the band still on top of its game …………review and photos by Tim Darbyshire.
With a capacity of under 1000 seats, the intimate setting of the Hart Theater inside The Egg provided the ideal setting to witness YES as the venue is known for its great acoustics. Although not quite sold out, the crowd welcomed the band enthusiastically as they entered the stage to the sound of Benjamin Britten’s ‘Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra’.
As on all dates on this tour, YES immediately powered into 1980’s ‘Drama’ album in its entirety. Released originally in 1980, it was an interesting time in YES’ often turbulent history as founder member Jon Anderson and keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman were replaced by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes – aka The Buggles who were best known for their hit single ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. 36 years later, ‘Drama’ is widely regarded as a gem in the YES back catalogue.
‘Machine Messiah’ kicks off the album, and from the off it’s clear Geoff Downes in particular is in his element, enjoying playing the material he first co-wrote for YES. Billy Sherwood handles Chris Squire’s bass parts with aplomb throughout, highlighted on ‘Does It Really Happen’. The Buggles’ Yessified ‘Into The Lens’ and the rarely heard ‘Run Through The Light’ lead into the album closer ‘Tempus Fugit’ – a storming climax to a remarkably fresh sounding work.
It seems ‘Drama’ is over so quickly (all 37 minutes of it – tempus fugit indeed), and before we know it we’re back in the familiar crowd-pleasing territory of ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’. A rousing ‘Siberian Khatru’ closes the first set, with Steve Howe relishing the solo at the end of the piece.
On paper at least, by playing half of ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’ YES is challenging their more casual fans – but that’s par for the course, YES has always demanded listeners actually listen to the material which leads to great rewards on the most part. A typically uplifting ‘And You And I’ with the customary sublime guitar work from Steve Howe opens the second set and leads into the two 20 minute ‘Tales’ tracks.
‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’ was of course 1973’s controversial follow up to ‘Close To The Edge’, and for some fans and many critics it was a step too far. A double album with one song per side – it even split the band. To other YES fans it’s a kind of holy grail and I think the decision to present the more accessible sides 1 and 4 (The Revealing Science Of God and Ritual) with the acoustic interlude ‘Leaves Of Green’ (from side 3 – ‘The Ancient’) sandwiched between the two longer pieces should be applauded.
Vocalist Jon Davison effortlessly handles ‘The Revealing Science Of God’. That’s no mean feat considering some of the lengthy wordier sections, and Alan White’s temporary replacement Jay Schellen – who does a commendable job throughout – gets the chance to shine during ‘Ritual’ which has Jon, Billy and Jay all pounding out rhythms towards the end of the song. The ‘Nous Sommes Du Soleil’ part of ‘Ritual’ remains some of the most beautiful music written by YES.
A barnstorming double encore of ‘Roundabout’ and ‘Starship Trooper’ brings the evening’s proceedings to a close – this is clearly a band on top form. The current line-up might not please every YES fan, but make no mistake, they are YES and I’m struggling to recall any line up looking so happy to be on stage playing YES music.